SAN FRANCISCO — Word that Utah's men's basketball team finished a distant last in the Pac-12 media poll didn’t sit all that well with center Jason Washburn.
“I believe wholeheartedly that we’re not a 12th-place team. I’m sure whoever made these rankings has all the factors. It’s because of this, this, this, this and this. I don’t really care,” he said. “It’s my senior season. I don’t plan on finishing 12th. My team doesn’t plan on finishing 12th. Coach K doesn’t plan on finishing 12th. We’re just going to play ball and win some games and whatever happens, happens.”
Arizona was picked to win the conference, edging UCLA for top honors in the poll — compiled through a vote of 36 members of the media who cover the league. California, Stanford, Washington and Colorado round out the top six. Oregon, Oregon State, USC, Washington State, Arizona State and the Utes complete the projected order of finish.
Although Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak doesn’t believe he has a last-place team, the second-year coach acknowledged that talk is cheap.
“We get to play 18 times to try to prove otherwise,” Krystkowiak said. “We tried to do the same thing last year. The one thing I know we’re a better team. I think the league is going to be far better and so we better be taking some steps forward.”
Where the Utes fit in remains to be seen. They finished 11th in the Pac-12 last season and have revamped their roster — bringing in eight newcomers.
“We’re just going to fight and scratch,” Krystkowiak said. “The one thing I want to say is it’s hard to beat a team that never gives up, and that’s the mentality that we’ve kind of built within our culture now.”
The drive to keep getting better, Krystkowiak added, will remain the same whether the Utes are picked first or 12th. As such, he doesn’t really pay attention to preseason projections.
“I’ve always had the underdog mentality. I don’t think you ever want to get complacent with anything you’re doing,” Krystkowiak said. “We’re going to be the underdog. We need to play that way and take on that personality.”
The Utes just need to play hard, he said, and not rely on what the experts or statistics say.
“It’s still pretty irrelevant at the end of the day. We’ve got to lace them up and play and do it 18 times,” Krystkowiak said of the poll. “I have a sneaking suspicion that this isn’t going to be correct at the end of the day. Where we fit in, I don’t know, but there’s a lot of wiggle room in there for a lot of teams.”
Washburn had similar thoughts.
“Rankings are rankings and most often they’re wrong. Surprises happen. Disappointments happen. We’re better than most people think we are, some teams are worse than people think they are,” he said. “It’s not my job to worry about it. My job is to play basketball. My job is to lead my team. Every game we go into, we expect to win. We’re never going to go in saying we’re going to lose because this team is picked higher than we are.
“We’re going to win some basketball games,” Washburn continued. “We’re going to surprise some people, and it’s going to be a fun season just for that.”
2012 Pac-12 preseason men's basketball poll
1. Arizona (15) — 403
2. UCLA (16) — 402
3. California (3) — 325
4. Stanford — 296
5. Washington (2) — 278
6. Colorado — 262
7. Oregon — 217
8. Oregon State — 166
9. USC — 163
10. Washington State — 111
11. Arizona State — 107
12. UTAH — 78